Going Soft on Snapper
  |  First Published: December 2009

Adam Royter explains that it’s not all smoke and mirrors when it comes to catching snapper on soft plastics. After nearly 8 years of trial and error, he reckons he’s got it almost sussed!

Where do you Start?

“Where do I start?” Not the question I get asked very often but it bloody well should be! Most people are more concerned about what colour, size and type of soft plastic (SP) they should use. Like the soft plastic is a silver bullet or something. “Here, buy this colour and they’ll jump into the boat.” Rubbish! That’s the last thing you need to know.

Seriously, the majority of people who are taking up this style of fishing already know how, where and when to catch snapper. But as soon as you give them a SP rod and a bag of plastics they leave their brains at home when they hit the water.

You’re doing nothing differently to when you’d fish for snapper with live or frozen baits. You should go to the same spots at the same times and set your boat up in the same manner as you always have. The only difference is that you are going to feed them a soft bait instead of a live, fresh or frozen one!

There are other methods you can employ when using soft plastics, like drift fishing, but the majority of people are trained to fish one way and one way only for a given fish species – It’s human nature. But now is the time to kick the blinkers off people!

On the Drift

Drifting is neither miraculous nor magical. It’s simply fishing from a drifting boat.

If you don’t have a drogue, then toddle off to the boat shop and get one. They cost around $70 but they are indispensable for drifting.

The drogue is like an anchor for the wind as opposed to the tide. You need to set it up so that the back of your boat is open to the direction that you intend on casting. Off the nose at 45º is not a bad option, but you’ll need to play around with it because all boats are different and some will work better with it at 90º.

Once you’ve got your drogue set up and working (obviously there is no need if the wind is 5 knots or less. A bucket will help you to just pull your boat around the right direction in these conditions) you need get your GPS up and running. Split screen if you can with half sounder on the bottom track and the other half on GPS with a trail. Mark your fish with the sounder as you normal would, go up wind 100m from the last mark you got, set the drogue and start casting.

Once you’ve drifted over your marked fish, use the GPS track line to go back to the top of your drift and do it again. You might want to consider when driving back up that you go around the fish rather than over the top of them when in water depths less then 10m.

Drifting is the most effective way to fish for snapper with soft plastics as you will cover more ground and introduce your plastic to more fish. Drift casting with the wind increases your casting distance, giving your SP more time in the drink, and (most importantly) allows you’re SP to fall to the bottom without being continuously dragged by the moving boat, which stops you having to open bail and feed line back to your SP.


Anchoring up is the most popular way to fish for snapper with bait. You can run a berley trail back down the tide and it’s easier to set your rods and know where they all are at any given time, until the tide goes against the wind and ties your lines up into something that resembles a bowl of nylon linguini.

However, anchoring is something you can really work to your advantage when fishing SP. But only if it’s done right!

What do you think about this for a scenario? Old mate decides that he wants to give this ‘new fangled soft plastic’ thingy a bit of a go. So he gets a few soft plastics and jigheads and runs out to his favourite spot. Drops the anchor, starts setting up the berley trail, fans out four baited rods into the trail of berley and ties on his soft plastic. Hold on, one of the baits has gone off, winds that in! Back to the soft plastic, now he can’t throw it straight out the back and retrieve it like the guy in the shop told him to because he’ll pick up some of his other bait lines, so he tosses it out to the side. Another bait rod goes off. Another fish hits the deck. Few more handfuls of berley go in. Back to the soft plastic! Couple more casts and retrieves, still nothing and then he remembers hearing about someone that caught a snapper once with the SP straight under the boat with the rod in the rod holder. Well that’s gotta be easier than casting and retrieving it on that heavy old solid tipped rod with the 4500 baitrunner on it doesn’t it? This outfit weighs a tonne! “Arrrr that’s better. This SP fishing is easy as. Doesn’t work, but it’s easy! “

Oh God help me please!

End of the trip, old mate caught five lovely snapper on bait and two flathead on his soft plastic. What happened?

Pretty straight forward I would have thought. Old mate has driven forward and marked his fish. Then set a berley trail to corral the fish behind the boat. The fish would’ve had to break away from the berley trail and then swim out and around all of his baits, then find the near lifeless SP dangling straight under the big black shadow of the boat where all the banging and crashing is coming from…not that enticing a place for a feed if you’re a fish!

This is so standard it’s almost silly. Seriously, how do you expect to catch fish on SP if you’re doing that? How do I know this actually happens? After 21 years of working in tackle shops and talking to snapper anglers…

So how do we fix this ‘little’ dilemma? You swap it around! You fish the SP’s out the back and fish your baits out to the side (if you have to fish bait at all). Yes, you can still berley. Berley is a big part of not only getting the fish in the mood but gathering them together so you can have your way with them.

When casting from an anchored boat try to keep landmarks on the direction of where you have cast. That way you can slice up the casting zone into a grid and run your SP through every inch of water rather than just casting into the same spot the whole time!


After you’ve cast out as far as you can you need to let your SP hit the bottom, and there are several ways to tell when this has happened.

From a drifting boat, you’ll sometimes be winding in small amounts of line and other times you’ll have your bail open as you drift towards your SP. In this situation you need to concentrate on the line lying on the water in front of you. If you look closely there will be little vees coming off the line as the SP falls and drags line with it.

This is also the case when you’re at anchor. Have your bail arm open and ‘sweep’ line onto the water surface and watch it as it gets pulled through the water.

In shallow water you can have your bail closed and remain tight to your SP and watch the line between the rod tip and the water. It will be slightly tort and then you’ll see it ‘relax’ as it hits the bottom.

As soon as your line stops in any of these cases your SP is on the bottom. Consequently, if your line moves irregularly or speeds up, you probably have a fish on and should set the hook!

Once you’re on the bottom then you need to retrieve it back to you. This is very easy and, again, there is no secret way or special thing you need to do. The only requirement is the after every rod and reel movement, you allow the SP to retouch the bottom.

One of the most popular retrieves is to simply lift the rod from the water to above your head with what is best described as 2-4 small ‘hook set’ motions. This action with your rod tip will make the SP erratically dart side-to-side giving it some life.

The most important part of the retrieve is the ‘drop’ section. This is when the SP is free falling back to the bottom. Be sure to watch your line closely as this is when you’re likely to get a bite! Snapper love hitting SPs on the drop. It’s when they consider the food item to be out of energy and unable to swim away.

Rods and Reels

What most people find unusual about the rods and reels used for this fishing is how light they are in action. For the majority of people a 7’, 6-10kg, solid tipped Silstar or Ugly Stik have been the norm for so long it’s like pulling teeth trying to convince them otherwise!

The bottom line is this style of fishing is all about fun not fillets and the truth be known, the poor old snapper just doesn’t pull that hard to warrant using anything that heavy! Now I know that’ll get a few noses out of joint but it’s true. If you compare the fighting abilities of a snapper pound for pound with a number of other fish species, let’s say a trevally for instance, you’ll quickly understand what I mean. And if you still think I’m wrong, get off your slack backsides and go catch both of them and get back to me!

The rods more commonly used for this type of fishing are in the 4-8kg line class bracket. But keep in mind that the overall action versus line class will change from manufacture to manufacture. You really need to be guided through the rod selection by a retailer who knows what he or she is talking about.

The most suitable rods are made from graphite. Nothing else will do, and the lighter the better! You do so much rod moving with this style of fishing that every gram counts. If you consider that you might have to cast and retrieve your lure 200-400 times in a session, you’ll quickly understand why a lightweight outfit is so necessary.

Commonly your outfit (rod, reel and line) should weigh between 350g and 550g. An old style snapper bait fishing outfit could weigh as much as a 1kg or more! As tough as you might think you are, there’s no way you can do a good SP retrieve with a standard snapper bait fishing outfit.


This is where most anglers have a heart attack in the tackle shop when the shop staff trying to sell you some 10lb PE line for your new outfit! Well get a paper bag, stop hyperventilating while I explain to you why.

Fishing Polyethylene fibre line is more about diameter than braking strain. It’s pretty weird stuff and doesn’t really do what nylon fishing does in the water and on your reel. For this reason it’s more manageable in the thinner diameters.

Thermally fused PE lines, like Fireline and Microfuse, are at their best for this type of fishing in either 8lb or 10lb and in the dozens of braided lines available, you need to look for 10lb and 15lb to get a manageable diameter. All of these lines have a similar diameter (0.20-0.28mm).

The main reason for using these skinny lines is drop speed, which is the critical element when needing to get to the bottom. Water resistance against the diameter of your line can mean the difference between getting to the fish in 20 seconds or 2 minutes. Keep in mind that the water between you and 2m off the bottom is dead water, all the action happens on the bottom. So that’s where you need to be the whole time!

If you’re concerned about the big bad snapper busting you off then you should know that almost all PE lines will break at twice the labelled breaking strain that’s on the box. Some even more so! Take stock-standard yellow Berkley Fireline in 10lb and it will give you a straight line breaking strain of around 24lb. That’s nearly 2.5 times the box breaking strain. The 8lb will give you every ounce of 20lb and then some. These lines are really strong so don’t for one second think that any silly little snapper is going to get away. Oh, and you probably should try using your drag system as well – That’ll really help.

Leader material is a dish best severed thin. For exactly the same reasons as the PE and to a smaller degree the visual aspect from the fished point of view. Most people these days are familiar with fluorocarbon and its ability to be very hard to see under water. This is great stuff no doubt, however, if you are fishing in any deeper water than 10m, it doesn’t matter what material you use as the visual aspect of the line is lost at this point. As a matter of fact, your good old nylon fishing line that’s wrapped around your bait fishing outfits is just as good, or even better! After all, nylon fishing line is more abrasive resistant than fluorocarbon by up to 50%. I can hear the cogs turning now…


The soft plastics are the cool part of this style of fishing for sure. But as I said in the beginning, there is no silver bullet that is going to kill them all. You still need a range of colours and sizes.

A 7” Jerk Shad might look like a big SP but if you put it against a silver whiting or a pilchard, it all of a sudden looks really small. Just the same as when you’re looking at a 80mm Squidgey Riggler and think that is way too small, you wouldn’t believe how many big fish have been caught on those little buggers.

First understand that the snapper is a scavenger and will take any opportunity to feed on whatever is around at the time. If you run an injured baitfish passed a hungry fish you’ll soon be on. It doesn’t matter to the fish what size it is as long as it can catch it and it fits in their mouths. And that’s what you trying to do with your SP. You need to make it look as crook as you can. It’s gotta be an easy get for the fat lazy old snapper.

You can also sometimes find the fish shut down and not interested in eating. This is where your SPs have a little leverage over the bait angler. You can start to work on the fish’s gray matter and try to make it angry; angry enough to lash out and bite. Just the same as using bright colours to anger the fish, the snapper has keen predatory eye sight and will see from a lot further away your bright, contrasting SP. Giving you a larger ‘attractive zone’ then a lifeless, natural frozen bait.

This snapper fishing with soft plastics is not really that hard to do. You just have to have the right gear and want to do it. I’ve caught snapper on SPs in every state in the country (except NT) and had some of the best fishing ever in NZ. No matter where I go to do it and what people tell me about their local fish and how different they are, it all works the same way all over. There is no difference at all!

So poppy-cock to all those people who think this is a science and something for the elite. I reckon it’s one of the easiest ways to catch snapper and by far the most fun. So if you’re looking for a change from the good old block of pilchards, you’d be mad not to give this a serious crack. Trust me you’ll never look back.


Rod and reel checklist:

• Rod must be made of graphite;

• Rod needs to be fast for extra fast action;

• Reel needs to be as light as possible (size is the key);

• Reel must have good drag and gearbox.

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